11 Sep How to Craft a Better Business: Felicia Lo, Sweet Georgia
Today we’re continuing our series, How to Craft a Better Business. From time to time we interview a maker in the craft industry to learn more about their crafty business. How did they get started? What are some of their biggest challenges and successes? We hope you’ll enjoy reading and learning more from these crafty entrepreneurs!
Today we’re interviewing Felicia Lo, founder and creative director of SweetGeorgia Yarns. Felicia is a designer and entrepreneur, born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. Her lifelong passion for knitting, colour, and design led her to starting the sweetgeorgia blog in 2004.
A year later, SweetGeorgia was founded at her dining room table with nothing more than three skeins of sock yarn for sale on Etsy. Since then, SweetGeorgia has become a way of life where work and play are inseparable.
In 2017, she published her first book “Dyeing to Spin & Knit” with Interweave Press and currently, she is developing the School of SweetGeorgia to offer online fibre arts education to colour-obsessed crafters.
When she’s not playing with yarn or hunting tacos and ramen, she’s chasing her two young children around with her Oranje-loving husband.
SCM: How did you get your start as a creative entrepreneur? What made you want to start your own business?
FL: I must have been born in this way. My extended family includes many entrepreneurs and medical doctors, but both my parents were fundamentally creative people. My dad is a painter and printmaker and my mother enjoyed writing and they definitely influenced my creative and business decisions.
I learned to knit when I was a kid and then picked up sewing later on in high school. Throughout high school, I was interested in the fashion industry and sewing. I had no idea how to get there, but I started my first business that summer when I was 16 years old. I drew up my own flyers, photocopied them and stapled them to telephone poles in my neighbourhood. My summer business offered to sew clothes for people, but in the end, I only received requests to do alterations… looking back, that was sort of the first lesson in business — give people what they want, not what you think they want.
In any case, I was still hell-bent on the idea of a sewing business. So when I started competitive ballroom dancing during university, I sewed dance costumes for specialty shops and watched how these women-owned small businesses operated.
Later, I went on to start a graphic design and web development business when I was 20 years old. Those skills helped me start my SweetGeorgia blog in 2004 and then SweetGeorgia Yarns, the hand-dyed yarn company in 2005. That transition from working for other people’s businesses to working on my own business was a huge shift in mindset — I finally felt like I had something to contribute to the world.
SCM: What have been some of your biggest challenges as you’ve built your crafty business?
FL: Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in building this business was expanding my perception of myself. Not having come from a business background, I was always nervous about whether or not I was “doing things the right way.” I was worried that I didn’t know how to be a boss, didn’t know how to hire my first employee, didn’t know how to be a leader and guide a team. And honestly, I didn’t know if it was truly possible to make a sustainable business out of making hand-dyed yarn. I had lots and lots of worries.
Many years ago, I had the benefit of working with two very different business mentors. One challenged me to be strategic, tactical, and clear about delegating work and creating systems. The other challenged me to think bigger, have more confidence, and stop sabotaging my own success. The idea was that my business could only grow as big as I could envision and so now I frequently stop to reflect on and review the vision I have for the company, trying to ensure that it’s big enough for us to grow into.
Growing a business for me has been so much more than developing processes for inventory, sales, or staff. It’s been a personal growth journey to develop how I communicate and organize myself and my ideas.
SCM: What have been some of your greatest successes?
FL: In my mid-twenties, as a graphic designer with my own business, I found myself in a meeting with a client who was very happy with my work and abruptly asked me, “We love working with you and you do great work. Now you’re not going to run off and have babies and leave me hanging, will you?” And being the chronic people-pleaser that I was, I smiled and said “No, of course not.” But ever since then, I have always struggled with the question, how do I have a business AND a family. Is it possible to have both?
I believe our greatest success has actually been developing a flexible, resilient, and agile mindset for how our business operates. While I had to step back from my day-to-day work when I had our two kids, our team weathered these transitions and we built the systems in our business that have allowed me to be at home with my young kids.
So the business success is building the team that is able to function effectively thereby allowing me to work deeply on creating a future vision of the company.
SCM: Who has inspired you along the way?
FL: I can say that the list of people in our industry who have inspired me is endless, but the list includes innovators and educators like Barry Schacht and Jane Patrick, Linda Ligon, Liz Gipson, Jane Stafford, Paula Simmons, Sara Lamb, Deb Menz, Jacey Boggs, Rachel Smith at Welford Purls, and Alanna Wilcox at SpinnyBuns.
However, more than anything, I’m inspired by business owners in other industries because I love seeing parallels in different communities. Also, I’ve felt like connecting with other business owners in unrelated industries has been very liberating and helpful. It’s inspirational to see anyone create something that they are passionate about and turn it into a successful career, so I find inspiration everywhere.
SCM: What recent trends are you most excited about in your craft industry?
FL: It’s been ten years, I’ve been waiting for this to happen, but I’m feeling that there is a real revival of interest in weaving right now. For the past couple of years, for sure, there’s been an explosion of frame looms and woven wall hangings on Instagram and Pinterest. But more recently there’s been an increase in interest for rigid heddle looms… AND, I’m super excited that more people are starting to get curious about trying multi-shaft floor looms (which is what I want to nerd out about all day long).
The other trend that I am excited about is online learning. Now, we can learn from anyone, from anywhere and with the democratization of educational platforms, learning the deep knowledge and skills of these textile traditions is so much more accessible now. I think there is a huge void to fill right now with craft education, specifically fibre arts education that presents topics like spinning and weaving in an accessible way. Since we started building the School of SweetGeorgia, our online fibre arts membership site, in 2017, we’ve been trying to fill that void by creating video-based courses and workshops in dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, design, and colour theory. It’s absolutely the trend that I’m most excited about — social learning for fibre arts and crafts.
SCM: If you had to give one piece of advice to someone wanting to start their own crafty business, what would it be? And why?
FL: I always advise people who are starting a business to go get an accountant as soon as possible. Especially with a craft business that maintains inventory (raw, work in progress, or finished goods), you want an accountant to set up a system for managing the cost of inventory and the cost of goods sold. Or, you could spend six years figuring it out on your own the hard way, like I did.
SCM: What is the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you as a result of your crafty business?
FL: Being in “Hollywood North” there are a lot of television shows that are shot here in the Vancouver area. A few years ago, I was invited to set up an entire craft booth full of my yarn for a night shoot for the thriller drama tv-series, Bates Motel (the series is a prequel to the Psycho movie).
I supplied the set decorators with the yarn and they set up the booth for me, complete with string lights. It was gorgeous. I sat at my booth and spun a braid of fibre for about four hours in the middle of the night while they filmed Vera Farmiga walking around this “summer fair.” I don’t think a single shot of my beautiful craft booth made it into the show, but I had plenty of actors and extras come visit me and watch me spin on my Matchless wheel. That night after the shoot, I drove home from the set in Fort Langley at 4 am. It was awesome.
SCM: What do you do to avoid creative burnout?
FL: Oh yes, burnout and I are well-acquainted.
There’s the kind of burnout that is related to being overwhelmed with tasks and todos. For that, I like to sit down for a good “brain dump” session when I get all the ideas and thoughts out of my head and down on paper or into my computer. Taking the time to sift and sort through the stuff that needs to get done is really helpful for clearing the mind and resetting.
And the other kind of burnout is when you feel at a loss for creative ideas. For that, I find that getting outside and playing with something unrelated to fibre arts is really helpful and restorative. Just this past week, feeling a bit buried and foggy, I went out for an hour-long run along the water with my local run club and all the stress floated away. And during that run, I came back with a few new ideas of things I wanted to do. It never fails. Getting outside and going for a run always helps.
You can find Felicia Lo at felicialowong on Instagram. You can find SweetGeorgia Yarns at SweetGeorgia on Instagram and at https://sweetgeorgiayarns.com/. And you can find the School of SweetGeorgia at schoolofsweetgeorgia on Instagram and at https://www.schoolofsweetgeorgia.com